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West Coast Kid Going East: NCAA Championship Weekend, Part 1

Editor’s note: As part of our NCAA Championship Weekend coverage, one of our NCAA Lacrosse contributors, Ryder Cochrane, who hails from the West Coast, will be chronicling his trip to the East Coast for his first Championship Weekend experience. This is the first part of several and is dedicated to all of you who love the game even in absence of major programs in your backyard.

I started playing lacrosse before I had ever seen it. That’s really not that rare out here. Lacrosse might be one of the fastest growing sports in America, but when the most-western Division I school is 1,256 miles east of you, the opportunities to watch the sport are limited.

While I started playing soccer, trying to be Ronaldo (the Brazilian one, for those curious), I transitioned into lacrosse not to be the next Powell. It was actually because my girlfriend in middle school was playing, and I was up for taking some bruises to hang out more often. Thus began a long, intricate, and beautiful relationship…with the fastest game on two feet.

2019 ncaa lacrosse quarterfinals loyola penn state
Photo: Brian Dailey / Lacrosse All Stars

Middle school love isn’t the real thing (jams in headphones, blasts My Chemical Romance in honor of middle school me’s broken heart), but the love of the game is something all of us lacrosse players know well.

Lacrosse is, to those of us out West, a game for which we act as missionaries. We Grow the Game™ wherever we can, and it’s working…slowly. Sure, my home state of Oregon can boast a few big names now.

Peter Baum won us our first Tewaaraton. Soon after, Oregon’s Division I talent began emerging. From a handful of kids playing roles for mid-major programs, we’ve now begun breaking out onto the scene.

USILA just named Beaverton’s own Sam Handley a First Team All-American as a freshman. The stud attackman broke out at midfield this year after having been overlooked during a lot of his recruiting. Nowadays, the weekly box drop-in games in Portland feature not just Division I helmets, but a handful of former MLL players.

This has come from the original missionaries of the sport, those East Coasters who moved out to the Best Coast but only realized lacrosse didn’t exist out here until they arrived. Slowly, we’re growing. More and more West Coast kids are starting to take over the Division I scene, and beyond.

The LaxAllStars Crew Lacrosse All Stars
The LaxAllStars Crew – (From L to R) Jeff, Justin, Zach, Katie, Rien, Ryder, Ryan, Matt, Stu (Not Pictured – Mark and Josh)

Just because they’re playing there doesn’t mean they can watch it. Last year, I traveled with the LaxAllStars squad to Israel for the World Games. That second night, watching the United States take the field against the Iroquois, was the first time I’d watched a game with more than five Division I alums in person.

The game was stunning. I’d never seen skill like that in my life, despite an eleven-year career. The talent level out West keeps rising, but players still have to leave the West to get there.

Though I, like plenty of us out West, cheered as the Denver Pioneers won the Division I title a few years back, I didn’t fall prey to the narrative that DU winning the national championship was a win for “West Coast” lacrosse. Drawing a boundary at the Mississippi River doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of love for the “West” amongst those actually on the Pacific coastline. Denver is as far from my house as Dallas is from Pennsylvania. If Penn State wins the title this coming weekend, I wouldn’t be expecting a lot of people touting what this means for Texas lacrosse.

Thus, here comes the final part of the West Coast lacrosse experience: the pilgrimage. Like so many lacrosse geeks before me, I’ll be traveling across the country to take in the best lacrosse has to offer.

With dreams of Pac-12 men’s lacrosse swirling in my head (I see you, Utah), I’ll be flying 2,860 miles for the sort of experience that remained so elusive for the first eleven years of my lacrosse experience: the best lacrosse has to offer. No more ESPN+, no more MCLA (I still love you, MCLA), but the real deal.

As much as I want to see the PLL, which is coming out West, succeed, NCAA Championship Weekend remains the tippy-top of the lacrosse world. The point of this blog is to give the outsider’s perspective on the event. For the West Coast people, I’ll be reporting back on the experience, so that you can decide for yourself if you want to go check it out. For the East Coasters, for whom Division I lacrosse is a given, perhaps I can provide a fresh perspective on things, as somebody for whom this experience is a dream years in the making. Either way, I can promise a lot of talk about high-quality lacrosse and high-quality cheesesteaks.

2019 ncaa lacrosse quarterfinals penn yale
Photo: Brian Dailey / Lacrosse All Stars

See, I never needed to watch lacrosse to fall in love with it. All you need is a stick and a ball to fall in love with this sport. It’s a beautiful game. This is going to be a beautiful weekend.

To all the West coast laxers out there, I’m so glad you found the game too. Maybe it was easier for you, and I hope it gets easier for every new batch of kids.

Someday, we’re gonna host this thing. Let’s all meet up and revel in the glory days of parking lot practices after losing our field time to ultimate frisbee (just my school?). That’s the fun of lacrosse, though: you get to grow the game. Someone taught it to me. That someone left the United States to teach it in Colombia not long after.

I’m coaching high schoolers in Oregon now, but maybe those kids will explore the world to keep growing it. Lacrosse is a sport of missionaries, all of us taking our love for this game to the corners of the city, state, country, and world that haven’t experienced it yet to spread the great gospel of lax.

So, in the meantime, we need to make our pilgrimage to lacrosse’s gravitational center out East to catch the top level. We have a ways to go in our mission, but it’s come so far already. I can’t wait to watch my first live Division I game this weekend, and have it be Duke versus Virginia in an NCAA semifinal at the Championship Weekend

If you’re making the journey too, congrats! If not, enjoy the game on TV (I always have!) and just remember, our time is coming. West coast best coast, brothers and sisters. Keep Growing the Game, and it’ll be ours before you know it.